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9.12.2011

Open season on homework has begun

Tonight was the first night all three boys had homework. Kit did his at the after school club, Tio worked through his without fuss and it was Doc's first homework ever. All I could think was, 'You poor sap. This is the beginning of 12 whole years of lugging books around to do extra work you never wanted to do in the first place.'

I don't think you can prepare anyone for that. Sure, we had fun drawing the cat in a window after he read the poem but no matter how much you clap and praise a first grader on a job well done, by the time they get to 4th grade that rosy red tomato is stewed and you're listening to full throated wailing mode reciting a litany of greatest hits: "this isn't fair!", "my teacher said I didn't have to!“ or my personal favorite "I already did it and it's right!"

About a year ago I heard an interview with really bright inventor and thinker Ray Kurtzweil who was postulating that in another 50 years we may see intelligent implants that will upload information into our brains so that we can learn virally, like computers do. You teach one how to do it and then you download it to all the others. Unlike children where you have to teach them all laboriously one at a time over a series of years. Wouldn't it be fantastic, he said, if we could just upload the software into their supple little minds and avoid the whole school experience. All the years and years and billions of dollars and effort we spend to educate our young would be sidestepped in a single act. How efficient.

At the time, I thought that was an interesting concept and tried to imagine all the trouble and time that would be avoided by such a process. But as I gave it more thought and tried to envision it practically, it dribbled like sand through my fingers. What are we if not the sum of our experiences both good and bad. The years we spend in childhood and at school form so much of what we are that taking that away would leave a void so large as to be unimaginable. Granted, our educational experience, as with our troubled childhoods, could be improved considerably, but our brains are not capable of comprehending trigonometry at 6 years old. So if we get annual "smart" injections to reflect what our brain will handle what do we do with the rest of the year? Wait? Move on? Stay at home and stare at mommy? Perhaps get a job to become 'productive' members of society (at age 9).

The other thing that theories of advanced intelligence fail to grasp is what do we do with all these smarts later on in life? Most people can barely handle the brains they're given. What kind of life are we going to lead if you have to work at McDonalds and have an advanced degree in biochemestry at the age of 13? The problem with Kurtzweil and many like him is that they believe that everyone can and wants to think at the same level they do. They should spend more time at the local sports bar.

In the meantime, I'll enjoy watching this little boy struggle one word at a time to understand the universe he was born into. The brains we were given is an amazing gift and tampering with them might not be the height of wisdom.